Water Bear is the popular name for a tiny multicellular creature that has always fascinated microscopists: the tardigrade (named after the Latin expression for "slow pace"). Its four pairs of legs and clumsy gait are reminiscent of a bear (at least as much as a microscopic eight-legged creature can resemble a bear). Tardigrades inhabit more places on Earth than the human race: there could be one in any pool of water. The easiest method of finding one to breed, however, is to look in patches of damp mosses.
Part 1 of 3: Finding tardigrades
Step 1. Learn more about them
Everything that is microscopic about the tardigrade is incredible! Also called water bear, this is one of the most fascinating animals on the planet, which has the ability to live in almost any environment imaginable. It can survive:
- At temperatures as low as -200 °C and as high as 151 °C;
- When freezing;
- Days, maybe months, of oxygen deprivation;
- Days of water deprivation;
- At exposure levels to X-rays 1,000 times greater than lethal to humans;
- To countless harmful chemicals;
- To boiling alcohol;
- In vacuum and at low pressure, as in outer space;
- Extreme atmospheric pressures - up to six times greater than those found in the deepest regions of the oceans.
Step 2. Look for a potential tardigrade habitat that is very wet
Although most of these creatures are aquatic, a human would most easily encounter them in wet moss, lichen, and leaf litter. They can be found in forests, water puddles and even in the backyard. Wet places, where tardigrades are normally awake and active, offer the greatest chances of success. If you don't have access to environments with these characteristics, you can sample dry habitats, in which tardigrades tend to live in deep hibernation (cryptobiosis), waiting for water to return to an active state.
Step 3. Collect a sample of the moss or lichen with tweezers
Store it in a paper bag or envelope for it to dry. (A plastic bag would retain water, favoring the proliferation of fungi, which would obstruct the view of tardigrades.)
- It is possible to take samples of different types of mosses, lichens and litter to see if the water bear is more prevalent in some than in others.
- Soft lichens are more likely tardigrade homes than hard, angular lichens. Dusty lichen that grows on stones and brick walls is also a good choice.
Part 2 of 3: Building the Tardigrade Nursery
Step 1. Place the samples in a Petri dish
You only need to put a pinch of the material in each Petri dish. In the absence of a Petri dish, a small transparent plastic container can be used. A blister pack of medications would be a good alternative.
Step 2. Soak the moss or lichen completely
Add water - preferably distilled or rain - until it forms a 1 cm layer on the bottom of the Petri dish. Leave on for a period of eight to 24 hours to revive tardigrades.
Step 3. Squeeze the water from the moss into a second Petri dish
Shaking and squeezing the moss will release the microscopic creatures into the water.
Step 4. Find a low power microscope
Most tardigrades are 0.25 mm to 0.50 mm in length, a little shorter than a dot and bordering on what a man can see with the naked eye. A microscope with a magnification factor between 15x and 30x is sufficient to observe them, therefore. Anyone who doesn't already own a microscope can buy a cheap stereoscopic model online.
Step 5. Look for tardigrades
Put the Petri dish on the microscope table, focusing on the moss. Pointing a bright lantern horizontally at the sample from the side of the Petri dish can help as it will cause tardigrades and other creatures to glow white. Check for an animal with four pairs of stubby legs, slowly waving and waving its plump body. The last pair of limbs is turned backwards and could be mistaken for a tail or the end of the animal's body.
- If there's a tardigrade, you've hit the jackpot! Put the water in the moss again to create a suitable home for it.
- On the other hand, if you don't notice any movement in the Petri dish, replace the water and try again with another moss sample until you find a tardigrade.
Part 3 of 3: Taking care of tardigrades
Step 1. Feed them
They survive by extracting juice from mosses, algae and lichens. Once a month, place a small portion of plants in the nursery. Discard organic matter that begins to disintegrate or develop fungus.
- They also feed on nematodes, small worm-like creatures, and rotifers such as plankton. Try to find a good chunk of damp moss for tardigrades, which probably contains the prey they feed on.
- Some tardigrades live in fresh water and others in salt water. Stick to the same type of water and plants that exist in the environment from which you extracted them.
Step 2. Replace the water in the Petri dish when it dries
Tardigrades usually survive in dry environments, but this is not always the case. Be kind to your new pets and keep the nursery moist.
The tardigrade, when dried, becomes smaller and completely immobile. Seeing him in this state may be impossible, but you will certainly see him after you water him
Step 3. Enjoy your tardigrades
They won't mind if you look at them under the microscope from time to time. With any luck, you'll catch them skinning, laying eggs, or hatching from them.
- If you see colors on his tardigrade, you're looking at his belly! As it is a translucent animal, its skin shows the color of the food it has recently eaten.
- You can use the microscope to see if there are nematodes for your water bears to eat.
- After soaking the moss, don't leave all the water in it; you can take the excess.
- Be aware that some tardigrades devour animals of the same species.
- Although the water bear is among the toughest organisms on the planet, it does not deliberately expose it to radiation, extreme temperatures, and generally adverse conditions. He will probably survive, but the experience won't do him any good.
- There may be tardigrades in the sand on the beach. Specimens found in these circumstances are salt water, and if kept as pets, they should be placed in seawater-supplied aviaries.
- The Tardigrada phylum contains more than 1,000 species. For the sake of comparison, man is part of the Cordata phylum, which encompasses all mammals, birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles - and even some fabulous creatures like the sea squirt!